How to Start a Gay-Straight Alliance at Your School
- Follow GuidelinesEstablish a GSA the same way you would establish any other group or club. Look in your Student Handbook or on the district website for the rules at your school. This may include getting permission from an administrator, finding an advisor, and/or writing a constitution.
- Find an Advisor
Find a supportive teacher or staff member who has proven to be an ally around sexual orientation and gender issues to advise your club. It could be a teacher, counselor, nurse, or librarian. Tip: Find co-advisors for extra support.
- Find Your Allies
Invite peers who are interested in building an affirming LGBTQ space. Check with existing clubs for students who might have an interest.
- Make Your AskTell administrators what you are doing right away. Having an administrator on your side can be very helpful when talking to teachers, parent groups, the community, and the school board. If an administrator is resistant to the GSA, let them know that forming a GSA club is legally protected. Also, inform counselors and social workers, who may know students who would be interested in attending the group.
- Pick a Meeting PlacePick a classroom or meeting spot that students can easily find and is located in a safe place, such as your advisor’s classroom or a meeting room in the library. Post rainbow signs and other posters to help people find you. This is just a template and not all resources will fit perfectly into this template. Feel free to adjust spacing or text size as you feel appropriate.
- Advertise (and Get Food!)Figure out the best way to advertise at your school. It may be a combination of school bulletin announcements, flyers, social networking sites, and word-of-mouth. Also get food and tell people there will be food: people always come to meetings when you provide food!
- Hold Your First MeetingYou may want to start out with a discussion about why people feel having this group is important. The facilitator can ask questions like: What do you hope to get out of being part of this club? What would you like to see the GSA do this year? How can this club make lasting change at our school? Be sure to start every meeting with a go-around of name, year, and gender pronouns.
- Establish Ground RulesGround rules help ensure that group discussions are safe, confidential, and respectful. Many groups have a ground rule that no assumptions or labels are used about a group member’s sexual orientation or gender identity. This can help make members feel comfortable attending and being themselves in the space.
- Plan for the FutureDevelop an action plan with assigned members responsible for action items. Brainstorm activities. Set goals for what you want to work towards, including events and campaigns. Create a calendar for future meetings and events.
- ReflectMeet with other GSA leaders and the GSA advisor to process the first meeting to think about, and write down, improvements for future meetings.
If your flyers are defaced or torn down, don’t be discouraged. Keep putting them back up to let others know you are committed to a safe place for all students. Advertising your GSA – using terms like gay and transgender – can be part of educating the school and can actually make students feel safer, even if they don’t attend a single meeting.
Need more help along the way?
If you want more information about any of the individual steps, there’s tons of information out there. Check out supplementary resources our Library page, and take a look at the following organizations for even more:
- U.S. Department of Education “Dear Colleague Letter” on gay-straight alliance clubs and the Equal Access Act: An open letter signed by the Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education about its support of students’ right to form GSAs in public schools. The letter includes studies and case law to demonstrate schools’ responsibility to obey the law, allow students to start GSAs, and treat GSAs the same as that any other clubs are treated.
- GLSEN: A national organization devoted to LGBT schools issues. Be sure to check out the index of all their research and studies and their Jump-Start Guide for Gay Straight Alliances.
- StudentOrganizing.org: A site from GLSEN where you can network with other GSA clubs around the country, sign up to participate in National Day of Silence, and get support for the day-to-day workings of your GSA.
- GSA Network: A California-based organization that exists to support GSAs. The “resources” section of their site has lots of ideas for stuff your GSA can do once the club is established, and there’s other good information to be found throughout their site.
- “Gay-Straight Alliances: Ground Zero for School Tolerance“: An article written for teachers by teachers from Education World magazine, explaining why GSA’s should be allowed at schools. You can print this out and give a copy to your school when you turn in your application to start your club.
- Information on the federal Equal Access Act from ReligiousTolerance.org: A good basic history and explanation of the law that protects your right to form a GSA.
- Teach.org page on How to Support Gender Sexuality Alliances in Schools
- Wikipedia’s entry on the federal Equal Access Act: Summarizes the details of the law and includes a link to the full text of the law.